Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

How to teach recall

HOW TO TEACH YOUR DOG TO COME

Recall – Teaching the Come Command

Boy, this is a big one! I would say that hands-down, recall is the most difficult behaviour to perfect. There is so much to distract our dogs out in the big wide world!

But there is no command more important to teach than this either. It helps you keep your dog safe in so many situations e.g. if she’s moving towards a busy road or approaching an unfriendly dog. It also helps you to give your dog freedom on walks while keeping them under control, as you know you can always call them back to your side if you need to. Dogs with good recall give all dogs a good name!

HERE IS A TECHNIQUE FOR TEACHING RECALL

GETTING STARTED

+ Set your dog up with a slip collar attached to a short lead

+ Start the training session with a few calming and bonding commands (such as Zen Sit and Zen Down) to get your dog attuned to you. Zen Sit is when your dog is sitting and gazing up to you, Zen Down is when your dog is in a down position with their hip rolled over to one side, as this is a more relaxed pose and switches them into a learning state.

+ Toss a bit of food away from you, and tell encourage your dog to Get It so that she moves away from you.

+ Once they have finished the food, say the Come! command. Ensure you use a nice, high, friendly, appealing tone of voice to help draw your dog towards you. 

+ To start with, click and reward as soon as your dog turns towards you. When you’ve mastered the command a little better, you will click and reward your dog when she gets back to you. 

+ When you’re having success with the short lead, begin to use a long lead (around 5m) or retractable lead, so that you can toss the food further away so your dog has a bigger distance to cover to return to you. Then move up to a 10m or 15m lead. 

+ Repeat this for a few days before without any correction for not coming, just luring your dog back by holding out food. 

INTRODUCING A CORRECTION

+ After you’ve done training sessions using the technique above for a few days, introduce a correction when your dog ignores your Come command. Your dog may not ignore you unless you’re out in a slightly more distracting environment, so this is a good time to go out and practise in a more interesting outdoor setting. 

+ If your dog ignores you and doesn’t come immediately when called, give a No command in a firm tone of voice, and click and reward if she then returns.

+ If she still doesn’t return, say a second No and give an effective check at the same time. As she turns toward you click and reward her. An effective check is when you quickly snap the lead in a firm and swift upwards or sideways motion to briefly tighten the slip collar around the dog’s neck, then release. Do not continue pulling on the lead and tightening the collar. It is brief and snappy, not tugging, pulling or harming the dog. 

+ The CONTRAST here is so important, always click and reward when she comes to you, positive reinforcement for making the right choice is the most important thing. Once she gets the idea, that first No command without the correction is her warning. 

+ Practise regularly at home, then proof (extend) the command in more and more distracting situations. Move through a hierarchy of environments, always start with the least distracting (inside at home), then gradually increase how distracting the environment is (your garden, then a quiet fenced outdoor area, then a quiet park, then a beach or dog park).

+ In each new environment, start on the short lead, then move to the long lead, then move to dragging the long lead, then finally off-lead when you can trust she’ll return. Keep using the clicker and food rewards for some time. 

+ I suggest you keep the long lead or retractable lead on until you’ve got it near perfect! Then graduate to dragging the long line until she is doing well in all situations.

PROOFING

I cannot emphasise enough how important the proofing phase is for a hyperactive dog. You need to keep a long lead or retractable lead on for quite some time when you move out to distracting areas, so that you retain the ability to correct your dog and bring her back to you if she ignores your initial “come” command. If she learns she can ignore you and get away with it, it is very difficult to get a good Come command.

At first, hold the end of the lead. Then when your dog is coming when called consistently, you can leave them just dragging the long lead behind them. This way, they get a sense of freedom, but you retain the ability to step on the end of the lead and regain control if you need to. 

ADDITIONAL TIPS TO INCREASE YOUR SUCCESS

+ Use low value food when practising in easy scenarios, e.g. use plain dog biscuits at home. Then save the really good treats for  while you are practising this command out and about in the world e.g use pieces of chicken or cheese at the dog park. 

+ Always start a walk or training session with some nice, calming Zen Sit and Zen Down commands using the clicker and food rewards to get your dog calm and focused on you.

+ Always use a nice, friendly and high tone of voice for the Come command and use welcoming posture – crouch down a little, pat your thigh with your hand. When using the No command use a firmer, gruffer tone of voice. Use a nice high pitched tone for that Come command even if you’ve just used a growly tone for a No command because your dog hasn’t listened. That Come command should always be said in an enticing way!

+ Keep your dog on a long lead or retractable lead until you trust her to return to you. If your dog ignores a Come command and isn’t on lead so therefore gets away with it, she will quickly learn that she doesn’t actually have to listen to you. 

+ A dog whistle instead of a Come command can be more effective over bigger distances and some dogs respond more willingly to it. 

+ Recall is a very good test of your bond with your dog. If you are struggling with it, you may need to invest time into some more mentor bond training – this includes Joining Up, the Zen Sit and Zen Down commands and lots of nice time spent interacting with and training your dog using a clicker and treats. 

+ Ensure you carry your clicker and treats with you, even long after you have proofed this command off-lead. You want to always have a way to entice your dog back to you until you are 100% confident that they will always respond.

+ Ensure your dog is really nice and hungry for this training so that she is more likely to be food motivated! Skip breakfast before the training session to ensure she’s food motivated. 

WHEN IS RECALL TOO CHALLENGING?

+ Sexual drive can create problems and challenges with recall e.g. an entire male searching for a bitch on heat is extremely unlikely to return when called.

+ A dog with predatory behaviours will not come when called if chasing a prey animal. In this case, the predatory aggression needs to be solved first and foremost before you can expect good recall. 

+ Certain breeds are more inclined to be less responsive to recall than others. These are the more independent breeds that haven’t been selected for a high level of trainability e.g. Spitz breeds  (Huskies and Malamutes), sight hounds (e.g Afghans and Salukis) and scent hounds (e.g. Beagles, Foxhounds). These dogs can be trained, but it will be more challenging particularly if you are training them as an adult dog. 

STRUGGLING?

If you’re finding it a struggle, join our Dog Zen Virtual Dog School for further guidance and troubleshooting, or to solve problems affecting your recall such as prey drive or over-excitability.

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